You've scoured the earth for child care options and decided that hiring an au pair is the right choice for your family. Now that you know this is the direction you want to go in, you need to learn how to find an au pair that suits your family's unique needs. Hiring the right person is one of the most significant decisions you can make for your brood, so know what to look for in an au pair and where to locate the perfect fit for your family.
What to Look for in an Au Pair
Hiring an au pair is a major commitment for the entire family. The person you get matched with will live with you in your home as a temporary family member. Because of the intimate arrangement, you want to ensure the au pair-family match is a winning combination. While every family has their personal preferences with regard to what they are seeking in a child care provider, generally speaking, families want to:
- Find someone who loves working with children.
- Find someone who is reliable and has a good track record of demonstrating responsibility and efficiency.
- Work with an au pair who has a positive attitude that will vibe with your current family culture and value system.
- Work with an au pair who has some level of experience. Levels can vary, but be sure you are comfortable with the amount that they have. Look at credentials!
- Consider whether language and cultural learning should be infused into the experience. Be sure your au pair has the English proficiency to communicate with you, the kids, and other community members.
- Consider driving needs. Whether your au pair can drive is certainly critical if you do not reside in a major city with accessible public transport.
Another thing families need to be clear on is the expectations of a prospective au pair. Duties that the au pair will be responsible for will need to be presented, discussed, and approved before moving forward with any legal contracts or arrangements.
Finding an Au Pair With an Agency
In the United States, most au pairs get matched with host families via agency programs. This is mainly because the United States is one of the only countries in the world that has government-regulated au pair programs. The requirements, set up by the State Department, exist to protect au pairs. Without these government regulations, an au pair could hypothetically go live and work with a family who retains their visa against their will, which is highly illegal.
Pros to Working With an Au Pair Agency
Aside from making sure everyone involved is legally protected, there are other major benefits to going the agency route in finding your family's au pair.
- Agencies may offer a better matching program for families and au pairs.
- Agencies provide continuous support to families and au pairs.
- Agencies utilize extensive screening processes and apply the vetting to both au pairs and families.
- Paperwork! This type of arrangement involves lots of legal paperwork, and the agency is equipped to handle this aspect of the process.
Top-Rated Au Pair Agencies
Type "find an au pair" in your Google search and prepare to be immediately overwhelmed. There are a lot of agencies all toting similar facts, promises, and proposals (16 in the states, to be exact). How do you know which agencies are worth your time and money? First, there is no substitute for doing your research. Look at them all, call and speak to someone directly, ask those questions and sleep on it. Of all the agencies out there, the following have good reputations for coming through with top-notch au pairs.
- Au Pair in America - Founded in 1986, Au Pair America was the first agency to go public with the au pair service in the United States. Being in business for over 30 years means the company has had ample time to establish critical program elements like the vetting process, extensive training opportunities, and cost structures.
- Au Pair International - This agency prides itself on the family-to-agency connection. Au pair agencies must provide local agency representation within an hour of the host family's home. Au Pair International is known for creating a close and supportive bond with families and au pairs so that everyone is supported every step of the way.
- Au Pair 4 Me - Matching the right au pair to the right family is the key to making the arrangement work. Au Pair 4 Me recognizes this necessity and makes sure that the matching process is the best it can be at their agency. They utilize a three-pronged approach where families can "reserve" three au pairs at a time as they interview and discuss prospective au pairs.
Locating an Au Pair Without an Agency
The answer to whether or not you can score an au pair without using an agency is not an easy one. Technically yes, you can, but if you forego utilizing an agency, you may find yourself jumping through unforeseen hoops and working out legal kinks and headaches.
Hiring an Au Pair on an F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 visa requires international students to be enrolled full-time in an educational program, and the visa expires when the learning program has ended. If you go this route, you will pay a fee for sponsoring the visa (a couple hundred dollars) but will be on the hook for the student/au pair's educational tuition. If the prospective student/au pair enrolls in a four-year educational program, you could have them for twice as long as an agency-based au pair. That said, working around full-time schooling can be complicated. F-1 visa students can legally work part-time only while they attend school.
Furthermore, these au pair/students cannot work off-campus during their first year. Any work they do must be related to their field. This is limiting, as you could only choose from a pool of people headed into child-related areas of study. Basically, you would be paying tuition and receiving no childcare help for the first year unless your family lived on the actual campus.
Hiring an Au Pair on an H1-B Work Visa
This visa allows international visitors to come and work in the U.S. Candidates must possess a bachelor's degree or have the equivalent experience in the field of employment. The visa is not cheap, running around $5,000. Because a specific number of these visas are doled out each year (65,000/each year, 20,000 reserved for applicants with advanced degrees, and 6,800 set aside for trade agreements), there is a lot of competition across all businesses. This visa opens in April, so you can't score one whenever you want. You also need to fill out a Labor Condition Application with the U.S. Department of Labor. This costs about $4,000, and if it gets denied, you are out the money. With this option, the costs continue on and on, and in the end, it is likely going to be more expensive than going with an agency.
Hiring an Au Pair State Side
One way to hire an au pair without working with an agency is hiring someone who is NOT coming from another country. The mere shift in native country murks the definition of an au pair, since one of the defining characteristics of an au pair is to be from a country other than the host family's native land. So yes, you can hire someone stateside and have them emulate au pair duties, but this arrangement becomes that of a live-in nanny, not a true au pair experience. Hiring within the home country will be easier legally, and if a massive language or cultural barrier still has you wondering if an au pair is right for you, then this might be the way to go.
Where to Hire From
If live-in childcare from your native country feels right for you, check out some of the best child care hiring websites out there to see who is up for the job. Care.com is a popular site for families seeking varying levels of child care. Here you can also lock down help that doesn't pertain to the kids, like housekeeping and pet sitting. This is a one-stop shop for any help you can imagine. Sittercity.com is similar to Care.com and claims to match up thousands of care providers with families each day. With a success rate like that, you will probably have decent luck finding who you need here. Gonanny.com is a site dedicated to everything nanny, including nannies who will live in your home and help care for your kids.
Different Rules for Different Countries
Different countries have different rules and regulations on hiring au pairs. Those hiring an au pair in Europe are not obligated to go through an agency, except for the Netherlands and Switzerland. Minus those two countries, Europeans function under the free movement, allowing citizens to freely move from country to country sans visa or work permit, as long as the countries are a part of the European Union.
Au Pair Regulations in Switzerland
In Switzerland, Au Pairs from non-EU countries must pass through an agency approved by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.
Au Pair Regulations in the Netherlands
Per Dutch law, host families and au pairs must go through recognized and approved au pair agencies before moving forward with the matching process. The agency helps to manage all pertinent paperwork involved in ensuring the legality of the arrangement.
Interview Questions for Prospective Au Pairs
One major sticking point that families want to be sure of is that the au pair they choose is taking the position for the right reasons. This person will live in your home, be with your children, and essentially become a part of your family for one to two years. Asking the right questions of candidates is crucial, much like you would of a nanny or babysitter.
Do Your Research and Take Your Time
It can be frustrating to wait for the perfect au pair to land in your lap, especially if time is of the essence regarding child care. Agencies will often give you option after option, and you might feel as if you have to bite the bullet and choose one. Don't. Never feel pressured to pick an au pair that isn't a solid fit for your family. This is a big decision that impacts every person living in your home. Be patient, ask tons of questions, and be confident with your choice.